On Friday, Twitter released new Terms of Service (TOS). While I’ve been Tweeting for over a year, I confess that I’ve never given their TOS more than a cursory glance so I don't know how much of the new terms were contained within the old set of terms.
The new TOS contain several items of special interest to small and independent business owners. (Note: This article is not to be construed as legal advice. It is a informational commentary only.) Here's an overview. (TOS appear in block quotes.)
- Establishing Your Twitter Profile Creates An Enforceable Contract Between You and Twitter.
By accessing or using the Services you agree to be bound by these Terms.
When you set up your Twitter profile, whether or not you have read the TOS, you are contractually bound by its terms. Of course we are all used to ticking off boxes agreeing to online terms without reading them, but this is never really wise.
At a minimum, once you read this post, you should take 10 minutes to read the new Terms of Service (TOS) yourself. You'll find the expected amount of boilerplate but as a business owner, you’re used to that. If you violate any of Twitter’s TOS, you are breaching a contract so you might as well know what your obligations are. While you’re reading them, you may even get some ideas to post on your own policy page.
- You Own Your Tweets, But There’s a Catch. Or Two. Or … If you don’t know it already, this is a good time to note that your Tweets go from your Twitter page to the universe. Don’t Tweet anything that you would not be comfortable having read aloud at your funeral.When you do Tweet, Twitter’s TOS says that you retain ownership of the content you share through Twitter. But …
By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
In other words, you own your Tweets, but by Tweeting, you are granting Twitter a license to use your content without your specific permission and without any compensation to you. Twitter can do whatever it wants with your Tweets, and it can sublicense third parties to whatever they want with your Tweets, and neither Twitter nor the third parties are obligated to notify or compensate you.
Since there are thousands of people creating new third party Twitter applications every day, this means that your Twitter feed can be extracted and used by anyone anywhere without your permission.
As a business owner, this could be good news because it may mean that your message will be spread further and faster than you could spread it on your own.
On the other hand, it also means that you have no control over your message once you hit the Send key, and the public’s interpretation and use of your message could be an issue someplace in the world and you may never know it.
Twitter’s TOS makes it clear that, while you own your Tweets, Twitter has a license to use your Tweets in any way it sees fit without paying you anything. This is important because of the next item.
- At Some Point, Twitter Will Accept Paid Advertisements As A Matter Of Course. That’s no big surprise of course. However, as a small business owner, you should know that this could mean that Twitter-sanctioned ads may start showing up on your Twitter page tomorrow without notice to you. The sudden appearance of a credit reporting service ad on your Twitter page might not make you happy but under the new TOS, you’d be powerless to do anything about it, even if the ad is totally irrelevant to the content at your Twitter page. Here's the relevant provision:
The Services may include advertisements, which may be targeted to the Content or information on the Services, queries made through the Services, or other information. The types and extent of advertising by Twitter on the Services are subject to change. In consideration for Twitter granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Twitter and its third party providers and partners may place such advertising on the Services or in connection with the display of Content or information from the Services whether submitted by you or others.
Twitter’s TOS says that it is “leaving the door open for exploration in this area but we don’t have anything to announce.”
This is very open-ended language. If Twitter targets ads to your page because of the content on your page, you could theoretically end up carrying advertisements for your competitors.
(Again, I’m just speaking hypothetically here.)
Because you are bound by Twitter’s TOS, you would not be able to do anything about such an ad, and you would not be compensated in any way.
The upshot of an arrangement like this that the content you produce on a daily basis can be used to tell Twitter and its sponsor clients where they will get the best bang for their buck in terms of ad placement. In this hypothetical, Twitter could be paid by its client for optimizing the content you create and own, but you would not be paid for it.
And since under the TOS, Twitter can license your content to third parties without compensating you and without your knowledge, it seems logical that it could aggregate Tweets containing selected keywords, license the use of that content to third parties who could set up websites that contain ads based on your sublicensed content. All without your knowledge and without any compensation to you.
In this hypothetical situation, Twitter makes money, the third party Twitter client makes money, the sponsor enjoys click throughs – all as a result of your Twitter content.
Of course this is all speculation on my part. I have no idea what Twitter’s advertising plans are. But I think they are in the works, and I think all Twitter users should stay tuned.
- Twitter Could Disappear Tomorrow.
The Services that Twitter provides are always evolving and the form and nature of the Services that Twitter provides may change from time to time without prior notice to you. In addition, Twitter may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally and may not be able to provide you with prior notice.
This is a solid reminder to all small business owners that Twitter is the icing, not the cake.
Regardless of how fun and effective Twitter is today, it is important to remember that it should supplement and not replace existing marketing outreach. If you wake up tomorrow and Twitter is gone, and you have not maintained your blog, website and other social networking spaces, you will be up the creek. Don't say you weren't warned.
- Twitter Can Implement and Profit From Your Ideas Without Compensating You.
Any feedback, comments, or suggestions you may provide regarding Twitter, or the Services is entirely voluntary and we will be free to use such feedback, comments or suggestions as we see fit and without any obligation to you.
This language is similar to what you might see in a typical employment contract where any inventions created or discoveries made by company employees are the property of the employer and not the employee. Who knows? You just might Tweet a good suggestion for how Twitter could improve its services, and if your suggestion is used to increase Twitter’s bottom line, Twitter is under no obligation to compensate you.
Again, I am not providing a legal interpretation in this article, but merely sharing and commenting on some of the language in the TOS that I think small business owners would be most interested in.
Question: What do you think? Do you agree with any part of my commentary? Why or why not? What did I miss?